SPEX: an in-orbit spectropolarimeter for planetary exploration


SPEX (Spectropolarimeter for Planetary EXploration) is an innovative, compact remote-sensing instrument for detecting and characterizing aerosols. With its 1-liter volume it is capable of full linear spectropolarimetry, without moving parts. High precision polarimetry is performed through encoding the degree and angle of linear polarization of the incoming light in a sinusoidal modulation of the intensity spectrum. This is achieved by using an achromatic quarter-wave retarder, an athermal multiple-order retarder and a polarizing beamsplitter behind each entrance pupil. Measuring a single intensity spectrum thus provides the spectral dependence of the degree and angle of linear polarization. Polarimetry has proven to be an excellent tool to study microphysical properties (size, shape, composition) of atmospheric particles. Such information is essential to better understand the weather and climate of a planet. Although SPEX can be used to study any planetary atmosphere, including the Earth’s, the current design of SPEX is tailored to study Martian dust and ice clouds from an orbiting platform: a compact module with 9 entrance pupils to simultaneously measure intensity spectra from 350 to 800 nm, in different directions along the flight direction (including two limb viewing directions). This way, both the intensity and polarization scattering phase functions of dust and cloud particles within a ground pixel are sampled while flying over it. In the absence of significant amounts of dust and clouds, the surface properties can be studied. SPEX provides synergy with instruments on rovers and landers, as it provides a global view of spatial and temporal variations of the planet.